At a glance
- According to CPA Australia research, technology and skills development will be public practitioners’ main focus for the future of their firms.
- Core services are expected to remain unchanged, but how these services are offered will continue to evolve as technology becomes more integrated.
- Firms will need to focus more time and effort on skills development, as well as flexible work arrangements to attract and retain talent.
By Zilla Efrat
Broadening services and doing more business advisory work are among the strategies public practitioners are eyeing to thrive in the future, according to research commissioned by CPA Australia.
The study, titled CPA Australia’s My Firm. My Future., conducted by CoreData Research, found that 26 per cent of members planned to increase their offerings over the next five years to more effectively satisfy client demands. Many indicated they intended to provide fewer tax services and instead focus on business advice.
“As the world continues to move at a rapid pace, clients need help to capitalise on this, so demands will continue to move from accounting-related work to business advice,” explains Steph Hinds CPA, founder of Growthwise in Newcastle, New South Wales.
“Tax will always be there, but how we do it will change, with technology helping with more of the base work.”
Although Paul Luczak CPA, director of Melbourne-based The Gild Group, still expects to offer the same services, he adds: “How we do some of the services will continue to change. For example, bookkeeping services, accounts payable processing and bank reconciliations will continue to further automate with technology and artificial intelligence [AI].”
Biggest challenges for public practitioners
The study found new technology is the biggest business challenge. However, 58 per cent of interviewees recognised its importance and said they invested in it as required.
Over the next five years, data analytics and AI are expected to have a growing impact on practices. In addition, 83 per cent of study participants anticipated a rise in demand from clients for real-time data.
Lack of understanding of its benefits, the associated expense, and limited time-frames were cited as the main barriers to adopting new technology.
Regardless, Hinds still plans to expand the technology side of her business.
“It really transforms what clients do in terms of administration and the data they have available when making decisions,” she says.
“We’ve been early adopters of technology, so the issue we need to overcome is ensuring the apps we use are still the best at solving problems and that these continue to iterate to build the next layer of technology we need.”
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Finding the right staff
On staffing, 24 per cent of survey participants cited recruiting skilled, qualified talent as a challenge. Almost half of established practices foresee recruitment growing more difficult over the next five years due to changes in necessary skills and the availability of students graduating with those skills.
Finding a great team with a broad range of skills was certainly a big challenge for Hinds.
“As clients want more and more advice, the team you need to have providing that advice changes. We need to ensure the team is skilled in more than just tax and accounting. Staff need to understand business principles, be able to give advice, understand the nuances of running a business and be able to identify technology solutions that will help automate.
“This is hard to find in one person, so it’s about building a team that works well together. We will overcome this by structured training internally, sharing and learning as a team.”
Likewise, Luczak says: “Finding the right talent to join in on the journey is already a hard process, and I don’t see it getting any better. Ensuring that we have a great culture, working environment, flexible work arrangements, and career progression will be key.”
Accountants and the gig economy
The study found that 28 per cent of respondents expected to rely more on the gig economy to give them greater access to the skills in most demand. Forty per cent said retaining skilled and qualified talent would become more difficult over the next five years. Flexible working hours were rated as the most popular strategy for retaining staff.
Dianna Jacobsen CPA, founder of Shine at Business in Wodonga, Victoria, plans to do “more of the same” in helping small business owners, particularly in rural areas.
Her main challenge is cash flow to pay wages and insurances and for continuing professional development (CPD) because many of her clients are in financial distress.
“To help them, when neither they nor I get any sort of funding support, is a constant juggle of time and money,” Jacobsen says.
Her focus will be on servicing clients on a timely basis. “Therefore, I need to keep scaling my practice.
“I have a great team of in-house staff, as well as my greater network of related advisers, so team leadership and time [and] task management will continue to be critical for me, as I develop the skills and responsibilities of my qualified staff and support people.”
Hinds plans to continue to dedicate time to research and development, and planning what else her firm can be doing and what problems it can solve for clients.
“For us, it’s about always looking at how we can improve internally and how we can then roll that out to clients,” she says.
Luczak expects to broaden his firm’s virtual financial controller and CFO services over the next five years. He’s looking at acquisitions, partnerships and finding promising entrepreneurs to grow with. He also plans to work on the firm’s culture, staff satisfaction, and customer experience.
“We also want to stay in front of technology advances and best practices to ensure we’re running an efficient and profitable model,” Luczak says.
While technology pose significant challenges, these practitioners are also in agreement that it presents the greatest source of opportunity.